It’s Just That Any One of Us Is Half Without Another One Is You – Chapter Two

In which Team Seven is on the road again, putting out fires for Konoha in the wake of the invasion and learning a little more about each other and themselves. Action, Drama, I-4

To: The Fifth
From: Kakashi
Re: Bandits

There weren’t twenty of them; there were thirty. Fortunately, only sixteen of those were actually missing-nin. Unfortunately, three of the sixteen were jounin. Will be late getting home due to Naruto’s broken leg, Sasuke’s broken arm and ribs, Sakura’s bruised kidneys and blood loss. Please have a medic and a new mission on hand. The only team-building they can do in the hopsital is pranks, and then Shizune will try to poison me again.

Journey breaks, these days, meant a chance to train more. Going out on their third mission in two months certainly drove home the urgency of their village’s need for shinobi who were as strong as they could be, so Sakura didn’t grudge it. Not that that seemed to be the consideration that drove the boys the hardest, of course.

“Show me that Rasengan some more. I want to watch it with the Sharingan and see how it works.”

“Only if you show me how Chidori works.”

“Not that you’ll be able to do it, but fine.”

Boys, Sakura thought in disgust, and tried to pretend that she wasn’t just as interested in both techniques as they were. Kakashi-sensei had known what he was doing, teaching Sasuke Chidori, she decided, watching. It was a technique that required focus, something to cut and pierce at close range, tightly aimed. It was Sasuke all over.

She could see ways to use that.

She leaned back against her battered green pack, taking small sips from her water bottle. That was the kind of thought she would have tried to avoid a year ago. It still felt strange, to look at her teammates and see tactics instead of romantic candle-glow, or, in Naruto’s case, a haze of furious red. But Kakashi-sensei said that kind of thinking was her strength and she should use it, build on it. He kept asking her to think of things that brought that way of seeing out. Part of her preened over being recognized as the brains of this team.

Part of her sulked that she wasn’t being recognized as a strong arm, for the team.

She sighed and rolled over, tucking under her pack with a practiced curl for shelter from the rain of splinters as Chidori tore apart a tree. She was becoming a good shinobi; surely that was enough to satisfy anyone.

She rolled back up and watched again as Naruto prepared for the Rasengan.

Five minutes and another couple trees later, she was staring at Naruto thoughtfully, absently twisting the cap of her water bottle in her fingers. “It’s not that you’re good at this,” she said, thinking out loud. “It’s that you figure out ways to use the couple tools you’ve got, like the kage-bunshin, to do anything you need to.”

“Sakura-chan!” Naruto protested. “I am so good at this!”

“No, she’s got a point,” Kakashi-sensei murmured from under his tree and behind his book. “The only reason the multiple shadow clone technique doesn’t kill you is your chakra reserves. You took that fluke and made it work for you, though, even to mastery of an A-rank technique.”

Sakura nodded. “That’s what I meant. You… you don’t see any limits on how you use what you’ve got.” And she could use that, too. Naruto would never think there wasn’t a way to do something; he’d always find one, just like Sasuke would never move off a target. And Sakura herself… well, she might as well admit it, she would always want to direct, and maybe, just maybe, she could now. That was a really nice thought. Sakura smiled at both the boys, suddenly excited in a new way that had nothing to do with either romance or anger. “We’re going to be a really strong team.”

Kakashi-sensei winked at her from behind his book.

To: The Fifth
From: Kakashi
Re: I have a bad feeling about this

I think someone is tracking us. I’ve sensed what I’m fairly certain is the same presence on two separate missions, now. Send someone to shadow us on the way in.

Naruto hadn’t known what Kakashi-sensei meant when he’d grumbled about “government work” at the start of this job. He was starting to get it now, though. They were up in the Lightning Country, and they’d snuck past the border, which had actually been a lot of fun, and they were perched outside the fortress of the merchant lord they’d come to sink. The guy had an army of his very own, which wouldn’t have been all that much of a problem since none of them were shinobi, but there were Cloud-nin mixed in there with them. Real Cloud-nin, not renegades or deserters! And Sakura-chan said that meant that all the bad things this merchant’s shipping did to Fire shipping, like piracy and sinking and ships that just disappeared, was really done by the Lightning government, and so they absolutely couldn’t let any of those Cloud-nin know it was them, Leaf-nin, who had come to destroy the guy’s fleet.

That was the part Naruto didn’t really understand. Wouldn’t it be better to know that the Leaf wasn’t going to stand for that? Sasuke rolled his eyes when Naruto said that, but that was just Sasuke being his natural jerk self and it didn’t mean anything. Naruto was actually a little glad to see it. Sasuke was a lot more himself now they were out on missions again, all about training and getting stronger. That was the kind of thing Naruto understood, that was the kind of attitude he could get behind, because it meant they could all train together, and sometimes he could show Sasuke up, which made it a lot easier to take the times Sasuke showed him up. Though he wasn’t completely sure Sasuke understood about that, and sometimes he got all brooding and shit, and then Naruto had to do Sexy no Jutsu at him to make him stop, and nearly getting a Chidori shoved up his nose was totally worth the look on Sasuke’s face. But anyway, Sakura-chan said they had to keep it quiet, and he trusted her. She was definitely the smart one, maybe even smarter than Kakashi-sensei, because Sakura-chan was just that awesome.

But keeping it quiet was a lot less fun, and a lot more trouble.

“We need to destroy a minimum of three quarters of his ships, and definitely these five that are armored,” Kakashi-sensei tapped the sketch of the harbor, spread on the shadowy brown floor of the pine grove they were camped in, “without letting the Cloud-nin get a look at us. Thoughts on how to accomplish that?”

“If we take a day to write out explosive seals, we could have enough to do all the ships,” Sakura-chan suggested.

“We’d have to get them all set, a handful to a ship, within a very short time,” Sasuke pointed out. “If any are found, it will start a search for more.”

“Naruto’s multiple Shadow Clone technique might do for that,” Sakura-chan said, but she sounded doubtful, and Naruto pouted.

“I could totally do it,” he said. “There aren’t that many ships.”

“You couldn’t do it and be quiet,” Sasuke declared. “You couldn’t be quiet to save your life.”

“More to the point,” Kakashi-sensei cut in as Naruto scowled, “it’s to save others. If you’re discovered, you’ll have to kill whoever spotted you. There’s no other choice, on this mission. We’ve been active in the field for seven months straight, now, and we have to assume that Cloud has the means to recognize us, even though you’re all technically genin and wouldn’t normally be in the bingo books yet. They might even have shown pictures of the most likely operatives to the regular soldiers. We can’t afford to be recognized.”

After a long pause, Sakura-chan asked, hesitant, “We… have to kill just on the suspicion?”

“Yes,” Kakashi-sensei said, and there was no room at all for argument in that.

Naruto swallowed hard. Maybe he hadn’t known what Kakashi-sensei meant when he talked about government work, after all.

“If Cloud knows that Leaf did this, they’ll take it as an excuse to attack openly,” Sasuke reasoned out, cool and detached in the falling dusk. “Killing a handful of sailors or Cloud-nin to keep that from happening actually keeps the most people alive. Especially our people. It only makes sense.”

“There should be a way to do it so we don’t have to kill them either,” Naruto protested. “Can’t we, I don’t know, talk to them or something?”

“Not often.” Kakashi-sensei sighed and sat back against one of the tall, straight pines. “I doubt you got this part of it in history class. Our most recent treaty with Cloud was actually offered as a way to get their field commander inside our village. Under the pretext of negotiations, he tried to kidnap Hyuuga Hinata so they could study the Hyuuga bloodline talent. Her father killed him. So Cloud demanded his head for the ‘offense’, threatening to go back to war if they didn’t get it.”

Naruto’s eyes were huge, and so were Sakura-chan’s. Sasuke was looking down at his knees. “What happened?” Sakura-chan whispered.

Kakashi-sensei’s voice was quiet in the growing dark. “The clan head’s twin brother offered his life in his twin’s place, since he was marked with the seal that would bind his cells at death and lock them from any medical technique that might pry into the Hyuuga genes. It was done, and his head was sent back to Cloud with the remaining emissaries. They left a binding treaty behind, witnessed by representatives from Rock and Sand, so even when they realized what we’d done they didn’t dare repudiate it. We and they have raided each other since then, in covert operations like this, but we’ve kept any excuse for open war out of their hands.”

“And… we have to keep doing that now.” Sakura-chan’s arms were wrapped around herself, and her jaw was tight. Naruto came to a new resolution right then and there.

“Someday,” he said, firmly, “there’ll be another way to do it. When I’m Hokage, I’ll make it happen.”

“When pigs fly, then,” Sasuke snorted. “You are so naive. And we still need a fast, quiet way to plant the explosive tags.”

“Hey!” Naruto yelled, and then crossed his arms. “I’ll find a way to do anything. That’s my strength, Sakura-chan and Kakashi-sensei both say so.” He preened.

“Just not a quiet way,” Sasuke shot back, all dry and sardonic and stuff. Naruto didn’t used to know what that meant, before he met Sasuke.

“Both of you cut it out,” Sakura-chan ordered, sounding annoyed, but that was okay because Naruto could see she was trying not to smile, and that was a lot better than how she’d looked while Kakashi-sensei was talking. “Okay, look, if we plant the tags on the outsides that should blow good holes in all of them except the five armored ships. So if we do the regular ships first, that’s one armored for each of us and two for Kakashi-sensei, and very little chance of the tags being spotted before we set them off.”

Kakashi-sensei smiled. “Good. Now, how are you going to keep yourselves unseen, while you plant tags in the armored ships?”

“Camouflage fabric for when we need to take cover, but that won’t do for when we’re moving,” Sakura started out.

“We’re on water, what about that light-bending reflection technique Kakashi-sensei picked up in Hot Springs Country two missions back?” Sasuke suggested.

“I bet they wouldn’t notice the tags at all if I went in as a girl,” Naruto put in, grinning, and scored a point to himself when Sasuke actually groaned.

Maybe this could be a little fun after all.

They’re following Sasuke. Coming home through Water Country instead of overland, to keep away from Sound. -K

Sasuke stood with his team in front of the Hokage’s desk and kicked Naruto’s ankle when he fidgeted.

The Fifth steepled her hands and looked at them over her fingers. “This is something that would have to be done before you attempted the exams again, but I’d hoped to take a little more time to study the seal. Unfortunately, we’ve confirmed that you’re being followed, and there’s only one group that’s likely to be behind it.” She looked disgruntled for a moment. “Though we haven’t caught the bastards yet.” She took a breath and laid her hands down flat on her polished desktop, looking Sasuke in the eye. “It’s your choice whether to attempt this procedure now. I must tell you that the other person who’s undergone it so far is… not unscathed. Mitarashi’s chakra still hasn’t recovered completely, and I’ve begun to fear that it’s permanently scarred.”

“Then why did you attempt it on her?” Sakura asked, frowning, and blushed as soon as the words were out of her mouth, adding hastily, “Hokage-sama. I mean, if I may ask.”

Sasuke thought Sakura made a lot more sense when she forgot to be polite.

The Fifth’s mouth tightened and her fingers laced. “Because I made the mistake of telling Anko how close I thought I was to finding a way and she knows how closely Sound is watching our village. She threatened to kill herself to remove a potential security breach if I didn’t attempt it at once.” She passed a hand over her forehead and muttered, “I don’t even have enough shinobi to spare one for medical watch on someone of her skills.”

Considering what he’d seen of Orochimaru, and what he’d heard since, Sasuke thought Mitarashi made plenty of sense, too. There was really only one point that he wanted cleared up. “If I chose to wait, what happens then?”

“We’ll have to take you off your team and keep you in the village until the operation is stable,” the Fifth said, soberly. “It’s the only way to make reasonably sure you aren’t taken.”

“No,” Sasuke said instantly, and then had to pause, taken aback by his own surety. It didn’t change, though, when he prodded at it cautiously, in his mind. Any thought of staying here, of being left behind while Naruto and Sakura went out on more missions… no. Just, no.

“Yeah, that wouldn’t be right,” Naruto agreed, arms crossed. “Sasuke is one of us!”

Sasuke rolled his eyes, easing back into familiar disgust with the simplicity of Naruto’s worldview. This time, though, the idiot had the right answer. How was Sasuke supposed to keep getting stronger without his team to work with, after all? It was only practical to stay with them.

Sakura was chewing her lip. “If it’s still dangerous, though,” she started, and he glared at her. Did she really think he was a coward? She glared back, hands on her hips. “I’m not saying you’re scared or anything like that! I’m saying, what if this damages your chakra? What if it leaves you weaker? If you can prevent that by spending a mission or two on the sidelines, it only makes sense! You have to balance the costs with the gains, honestly.”

Sasuke glanced aside at that. If this were a mission, he admitted grudgingly, he would accept her evaluation. That was her part.

“What are the odds, if you do this procedure now?” Kakashi-sensei asked quietly from where he leaned against the wall of the office.

“I judge there’s an eighty-five percent chance of full removal with no chakra scarring.” The Fifth looked at Sasuke as she said it, not Kakashi. “In another three months, I believe I could increase that to at least ninety-five.”

Naruto looked daunted and Sakura screwed up her mouth. She didn’t immediately say it wasn’t worth it, though. Kakashi-sensei was silent, and Sasuke looked back over his shoulder, curious. His teacher met his eyes, gaze level and waiting.

Sasuke thought about that look and prodded again at his feeling he shouldn’t leave his team. Slowly, he said, “What good is an anchor if I let go of it?”

The corner of Kakashi-sensei’s eye crinkled, the sign of his hidden smile.

“What anchor?” Naruto demanded, bouncing a little on his toes, on the scent of a secret.

“The one you are around my neck,” Sasuke muttered.


Naruto went to punch him in the shoulder and Sasuke avoided it disdainfully, hooking out an ankle to trip Naruto into a chair as he deserved, except that even idiots could be quick on their feet and Naruto hopped over it. They were just starting to settle in for a proper round of it when Sakura pushed them apart, cheeks a mortified red.

“Stop that, the both of you! Not in front of the Hokage!”

Naruto straightened up looking hangdog. The Hokage in question, on the other hand, looked like she was trying not to laugh. “So.” She paused to clear her throat and managed, more seriously. “What is your decision?”

Sasuke drew a long breath, a little amazed by how easy it felt. “I’ll do it now. I don’t really want to leave this team.”

The Fifth’s eyes softened and he tried not to shuffle or fidget like Naruto would have. “All right,” she said quietly. “I need a week to prepare and clear my schedule. You three are off duty until then.” She nodded to Kakashi, dismissing them.

As they walked out of the administrative building, Naruto said stoutly, “We’ll come with you, when you go in to do this.”

“Not into an operating room, Naruto,” Sakura admonished. “We’ll wait outside, then.”

Part of Sasuke pointed out that there was no need, and it would be a waste of their time. But another part, the part that kept thinking about the number eighty-five and the floating, corrosive rage that came to him whenever he’d activated the seal, was glad they’d be there.

As it turned out, they were in the operating room after all. Sakura wasn’t sure how she felt about that. Tsunade-sama had come banging through the library yesterday afternoon while Sakura was distracting the boys with some fascinating camouflage illusion techniques she’d found. The Hokage’s hair had been half out of its ties, and her eyes had been blazing.

“I have an idea!” she’d declared and thumped a hand down on their table, leaning over them. “Naruto! Do you want to help out with this operation?”

Naruto had looked downright alarmed, and frankly so had Sasuke. “Me? But I don’t know anything about healing!”

“Doesn’t matter. I just need you to supply chakra to me.”

“Oh.” Naruto had settled. “Well, yeah, sure.”

Sasuke had blinked at him. “‘Yeah, sure’?” he’d echoed, disbelieving.

Naruto had looked at him, puzzled. “Well, yeah. The seal is a problem. Tsunade-baba’s gonna get it off you. If she needs some of my chakra to do it without hurting you, what’s the problem? It makes sense, doesn’t it?”

After a moment, Sasuke had looked aside. “Nothing you do makes sense, why should this be any different?” he’d muttered. Sakura had expected Naruto to fire up at the insult, the way he usually did, the way the two of them always bickered and snapped, but instead Naruto had leaned back in his chair, tipping it up on two legs, and just grinned. He’d looked… satisfied.

Tsunade-sama had smiled and ruffled Naruto’s hair. “Kind of figured you’d say that.” Naruto’s grin had turned downright smug.

“But..!” Sakura had nearly pulled her own hair in frustration. When was she going to get Naruto to actually think about these things before he jumped in?! “Tsunade-sama! Naruto’s chakra flow isn’t smooth enough for any medical application, and how can he possibly learn that fast enough?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Tsunade-sama had waved a dismissive hand. “We’ll take care of it with seals. Here, look at this.” She’d pulled a sheaf of paper out of her obi and spread it out on the table. “See? The Three Gates gathering seal linked to the Dragon at Dawn seal will smooth any spikes out, and if the whole thing is buffered through the Summer Rain chakra dispersal seal the level should be constant.”

Sakura had traced the complex figures with a fingertip, starting to understand; it was a brilliant piece of work. “But Tsunade-sama,” she’d finally said, with what she later recognized was unfortunate innocence in anyone dealing with Tsunade of the Leaf, “these seals have to be held externally. In fact, if I’m reading this right, it’s the chakra control of the person holding them that will make it all work, and they’ll have to be familiar with the chakra of the person sourcing. And Kakashi-sensei left on that short-term solo job with a caravan to Grass…”

Tsunade had smiled down at her like a cat with a plump tuna of its very own. “That, Sakura-chan, is where you come in.”

And so here she was, kneeling outside circles on circles of figures, hands folded in the Rat seal, breathing slow and steady to help give her a rhythm she could smooth the wild riptide of Naruto’s chakra into. She’d been right; the seals were a brilliant piece of work and she’d never have been able to do this without their structure. As a scholar, she was lost in admiration and a little envy.

As the person having to breathe steady while one of her teammates lay barely more than arm’s reach away and screamed, and another of her teammates sat in the circles of seals biting his lip until it bled and digging his fingers into the floor, she was only trying her damnedest not to break.

“Cauterize!” Tsunade snapped at last, visibly glowing hands still pressed hard to Sasuke’s back over the Gate of Limit and the Gate of View, and Shizune—her only assistant, and they really were that short-handed weren’t they, and why was she thinking about that at a time like this—stepped forward and traced layer on layer of medical seals over Sasuke’s shoulder, fast and grim. Sasuke’s screams finally subsided into hoarse, senseless, gasping. Tsunade was chanting under her breath, presumably to Sasuke, “Down… that’s right, bring it down… no need to go bleeding your goddamn chakra all over the landscape you stubborn bastard, bring it down…”

Tsunade-sama certainly had an unusual bedside manner, Sakura thought very distantly and almost giggled. Stress, she told herself, and pressed her hands together tighter.

“Done,” Shizune declared, running light fingers over each major chakra release point in turn. “Okay, it’s steady. Head is good. Hands are good. Spine?”

Tsunade breathed out and slowly, warily, lifted her hands. “…good.” She ran down the chakra points herself, nodding, and finally turned to Sakura and Naruto. “All right, we’re done. Naruto, get yourself buttoned up again so Sakura can let the seals go without blowing the whole top floor off the hospital.”

Naruto growled, and Sakura looked up at him, startled, and abruptly alarmed. His eyes… his eyes were strange.

“Naruto!” Tsunade barked. “Sasuke is safe!”

Slowly, the strangeness in Naruto’s eyes went away and the tension in his hands eased; there were actually holes in the tile floor where his fingers had been. Tsunade came and rested a hand on Sakura’s shoulder. “Okay,” she said calmly. “Let it go, easy now.”

As the pressure of Naruto’s chakra ebbed out of the channels the seals created, Sakura slowly pried her hands apart and eased into the formal release. “Kai,” she whispered, distantly surprised by how rough her voice was. And how she was shaking. Tsunade supported her and said, matter-of-fact. “Good work, both of you. Naruto, I know we pushed it with this, but you need to work on your control. Sakura, for you it’s your endurance.”

That cool, ruthless, teacherly evaluation actually steadied her. Sakura took a deep breath and said, in a more normal voice, “Yes, Tsunade-sama.”

Tsunade smiled. “Now, come on, and see for yourselves that he’s all right.” She actually laughed as they both scrambled past her to Sasuke’s side. Naruto took his shoulders, looking down at him fierce and intent, and Sakura laid a hand over his heart, letting out a shaky sigh at the feel of a strong, even pulse under her palm.

“We won’t know for sure until he’s recovered enough to work out a little, but all the signs are very good so far,” Tsunade told them.

“The way he was screaming, though…” Naruto muttered, not looking up.

“Orochimaru sank some of his chakra into Sasuke’s,” Tsunade-sama said quietly, coming to stand beside them. “Like fangs. And it mixed a little into Sasuke’s, like poison in the bloodstream, or a parasite. Getting that out was… not easy.” She smiled down at Naruto, and it suddenly came to Sakura that Tsunade-sama looked exhausted too, pale and damp-haired with sweat. “I don’t think even I could have done it and kept his chakra from hemorrhaging without you to supply a transfusion.”

Naruto looked up at that, eyes so wide and defenseless that it made Sakura’s breath catch. Had she really just imagined that feral strangeness? “He’s really going to be okay?” he begged.

Tsunade rested a hand on his head. “I think so.”

Shizune returned with a rolling cot and made to lift Sasuke onto it, but Naruto scooted in and picked Sasuke up himself. “I’ll do it,” he muttered, gruffly.

Sakura scrubbed a fast hand over her eyes, telling herself it was just the stress that was making her react this way, and swallowed the lump out of her throat. “Can we stay with him until he wakes up?” she asked, only a little husky.

“I imagine that would be for the best, yes,” Tsunade agreed, and shooed them after the cot as it rolled out. “Go on. Don’t forget to drink some water and stretch while you wait.”

There was some comforting bustle getting Sasuke settled in a small recovery room, and one of the orderlies brought a pitcher of water and, after a long look at them, a stack of rough white towels. Sakura buried her head in one for a few long breaths.

“You okay, Sakura-chan?” A hesitant hand rested on her shoulder.

Sakura managed a smile for Naruto as she looked up. “Yeah. I’m okay. Just tired out.”

She let him fuss and pour water for her, and watched Sasuke’s chest rise and fall with his breathing, and promised herself that she would never, ever, ever go into medicine as her specialty. Ever. A battlefield would be easier to handle than this. Anything would be easier.

When Sasuke’s eyes finally opened and she saw him coil up, tense as he always was, and then actually relax when he saw them there beside him, she had to let Naruto distract Sasuke while she scrubbed the towel over her face again to wipe away the water in her eyes.

From: Tsunade
To: Kakashi
Re: Naruto


Tsunade had her hands over her face. “So let me get this straight,” she said through them. “After the attack, after Minato-kun sacrificed himself and his child to ensure the Nine-tails was hosted and sealed again, Sarutobi-sensei decided that no one should air it around that Naruto was Minato and Kushina’s own son. Okay. That’s not all that unusual, in fact the Hokage’s children usually don’t really want that played up. I’m glad someone benefited from the lesson of my own childhood embarrassments. Fine. Great. It’s really fucking stupid that no one ever told Naruto who his parents were, but whatever. But! Then! Then he actually forbids anyone to talk about the Nine-tails or its hosting at all! Which just ensures that none of the next generation understand about the tailed beasts, or knows why their parents are acting like such assholes to this poor kid, or have the chance to decide they’re going to be cool and rebellious by making Naruto out to be a hero like Minato-kun requested as his dying wish! And Naruto didn’t even know what he was until he was told by a traitor two years ago, and even then no one fucking told him what it meant! Have I got all this right?”

She still hadn’t looked up from her hands, which was making Kakashi just a little nervous. “Yes, I think that’s about it,” he agreed, calculating whether it would be faster to leave by the door or the windows if the legendary Tsunade-hime lost her legendary temper.

She slammed her hands down on the desktop, which cracked, and glared at him. “Well that stops right now. I hereby repeal Sarutobi-sensei’s order of silence regarding the Nine-tails. That attack and the results of it are going to be taught in school, Kakashi.”

“I’m sure the curriculum committee will have an interesting time with that,” he murmured, smirking, and added more cautiously, “And what do you want to tell Naruto himself?”

Tsunade opened her mouth furiously, stopped short, and slowly closed it again. “You’re his teacher, Kakashi,” she finally said. “Will it help or hurt, at this point, to know who his parents were?”

It was Kakashi’s turn to be quiet for a while, thinking. “Naruto has made a lot of progress. He has the acknowledgement of his team. He’s made connections with some of the other genin. He’s even made a friend in the new Kazekage. He isn’t as desperate as he was.”

“But?” Tsunade asked softly.

“But,” Kakashi agreed, “most of the village hasn’t changed their minds. A lot of the older shinobi haven’t. I think… I think it might be best to wait until after he passes the chuunin exam. That might be enough acknowledgment that it won’t hurt him as much to know that he’s the son of a hero and even that didn’t stop our people from treating him like trash.”

Tsunade winced. Kakashi felt much the same way, but he continued steadily.

“If he’d known from the start, it might have been a talisman for him; if it had been public, it might even have stopped some of the hate. Or at least muffled it. But to tell everyone this late in the day… it has to be at the right time.”

Tsunade rubbed her forehead. “For someone with children and grandchildren of his own, Sarutobi-sensei could be a real idiot about how to deal with kids,” she muttered.

“I believe that is why Asuma tries to get people to forget his family name, yes. Or one reason at least. And what about the Nine-tails?” Kakashi added.

“We have to actually train him, and train him soon,” Tsunade said, so flatly that Kakashi felt a stir of alarm.

“Tsunade-sama, why, exactly, did you call me back so abruptly?” he asked slowly.

“I drew on Naruto’s chakra while I was operating to remove Orochimaru’s seal from Sasuke.” She crossed her arms, tight. “The fox itself came out just a little, then.”

Kakashi’s fingers bit into the edge of the desk as he surged forward a step. “What?

“I think it was just bleed-through, as the seal is made to permit. But he changed a little, physically—his eyes and his nails both.” She looked understandably grim. “Kakashi, Naruto had no training or guidance at all, thanks to his mother’s death, and he’s had this thing in him since he was born! And Sarutobi-sensei’s order of silence means he’s never even studied any of the scrolls left by other hosts. I think the fox is starting to resonate with Naruto’s emotions, and when that happens some of its consciousness or nature gets through along with its chakra.”

Kakashi scrubbed his hands through his hair, completely understanding the vehemence of Tsunade’s summons home, now. “We have to train him,” he agreed. “Get him as much teaching as possible, anyway. Maybe Sand has some resources they can lend us. But maybe not until after the exam for this, either.”

Tsunade frowned. “And if his emotions get stirred up during the exam?”

Kakashi snorted. “After what happened when the One-tail’s host went through last year, I really doubt anything Naruto does will stir anyone up much.” He slid his hands into his pockets and crossed his fingers. "Besides, the next exam is hosted in Sand, and they owe us one."

“Mmm. Well, I suppose it was triggered, this time, by his desire to protect his team. That’s a positive sign, I think.” Tsunade spun her chair around and stared out her wide windows, over the colored tiles of the village roofs for a while. “All right,” she said at last. “After the exam, we tell Naruto about his parents and the background of his demon. I’ll get some of the ANBU with their heads on straight to seed the information about his parents through the village, and send out an official notice repealing the Third’s order or silence. We’ll make a big deal about whatever training we find for Naruto, to calm everyone down.” She spun back around to glare at him. “And I’ll personally rip off the nuts of anyone who tries to further alienate the host and guardian of our village’s most powerful defense.”

Kakashi’s smile would have showed his teeth if not for his mask. “As you command, Hokage-sama,” he said, for once without any hint of irony. It was a shame they hadn’t gotten Tsunade back sooner, really.

He just had to get his students through the exam, and they could start setting things a little back to rights.